5 Most Soul-Healing Places on Bute

In the post-lockdown era, more people are desperately seeking an escape from chaotic urbanisation and the overwhelming bustle of modern-day capitalism. And who can blame them? While the latter half of this century has turned into consumerist ‘more, more, more’, it seems that many are opting for a ‘less is best’ attitude. Bute offers this much simpler way of life, with plenty of locations to carry out the 3 ‘r’s: Refresh, recentre and recharge. This is also known as ‘nature therapy’, which was extensively researched in Japan in the 90s. It’s true – nature does heal the soul, while also reducing stress and blood pressure. Even just visualising yourself being out in nature has a similar effect. But why ‘visualise’ when you can ‘actualise’? Here are my top 5 most soul-healing places on Bute:

1. Barone Hill

Barone Hill looking toward the Greenan farm. Taken by myself. July 2018.

Barone Hill isn’t always the quietest spot due to its accessible location and beginner-friendly hike but when you get the timing just right, it’s an incredibly rewarding climb. I’ve spent many nights watching the sunset disappear behind the hills, with nothing but the sound of birds flying through the brush. From the top of this hill, you get an entire 360° view. Whichever way you decide to face, there’s so much to take in from this beautiful viewpoint. You can sit and watch the ferry coming and going into Rothesay; or face onto the still waters of the Dhu Loch; or like me, watch the sun setting behind the hills facing toward Greenan farm. It really is a friendly climb that doesn’t take too much time away from your day. Especially when you’re not an experienced climber, there’s a real sense of accomplishment and empowerment when you reach the summit, and what could be more healing in times of self-doubt than that? Seeing Bute from a higher perspective puts a lot of things into perspective. I can’t count the summer nights that I spent there, just feeling grateful for being alive and thankful for having a body that could carry me up there.

2. Glecknabae

Glecknabae. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. September 2020.

When you’re on an island, it’s essential that you take advantage of being surrounded by open water. The shore toward Glecknabae and Kilmichael (take a right at Ettrick Bay tea room)is one of my all-time favourite places on the island. It’s often quiet here and for some extra solitude, I recommend visiting in either early mornings or before sunset. This shore offers a welcomed reprieve from what can sometimes be the business of Ettrick Bay. In fact, it’s like Ettrick Bay’s shy little cousin. There’s so many large rocks to perch yourself upon along this shoreline and places where you can be hidden by the overarching trees that look with you across the horizon. I’ve never been disturbed while sitting here; a place to watch your thoughts drift off with the waves and re-enter the town feeling like your brain has just had a bath. There are some places that require very little effort to just simply offer a spiritual sanctuary and for me, this is one of them.

3. Loch Fad

Loch Fad. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. July 2017.

That’s the wonderful thing about Bute. It offers the experience of waters in all forms, including Lochs like this. These aren’t just calm waters but virtually still waters. Sometimes even so still that the only movement you see come from the ripples of fish approaching the surface. Like Barone Hill, this place isn’t completely desolate but it does offer a taste of peace and quiet. What really gives this location its power as a soul-healing place is without a doubt the walk that goes with it. The journey is part of the destination for me. Anyone that you do meet on a walk round Loch Fad is usually there for the same reasons as you are and sometimes it’s a race for that white bench that faces out across the scenery. This location also offers a bird hut where your patience is rewarded with a whole range of different bird species from Mallard Ducks to Kingfishers. Not only this, but on the track heading toward Rothesay Academy from Loch Fad, you’ll probably meet a lot of blackbirds, robins and chaffinches chasing each other from side to side through the bushes. These tiny creatures remind us that there’s a lot more to Bute than just its people. There’s always a friend in Nature.

4. Scalpsie Bay

Scalpsie Bay. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. June 2020.

Scalpsie is renowned for two things: its cleanliness and its friendly inhabitants; the seals! When being in the company of other people gets too much for you, like it often can, then I recommend swapping it out for the company of seals. Depending on what time you visit, there can be whole squads of these guys lazing on rocks. They’re just a reminder that you don’t always have to be doing something – it’s perfectly okay to be sitting on a rock doing absolutely nothing! Another great thing about Scalpsie is that you don’t even have to be on Scalpsie Bay to experience the calmness of Scalpsie Bay. You can bask in what this beautiful location has to offer from the viewpoint not too far up the hill often called ‘Car Park in the Sky’. This place is usually quiet and combines what I love the most about all of these locations: Seeing Bute from different heights/perspectives and the mental clarity gained from being near water.

5. Kingarth Standing Stones

Kingarth Standing Stones. Blackpark Plantation. Source: Isle of Bute Facebook Page. 2015.

This part of the island carries a unique ethereal ambience; a mystical enchantment that I have felt in no other place. Not just the stones, but the woods itself are majestic. There’s something so humbling about being surrounded by these lanky trees. I’m always reminded when I visit that the world is a vast place, nature is its dominant force and what a beautiful combination when humanity works in harmony with it. It’s usually very still but walking in here doesn’t actually quiet my thoughts like other locations. It actually sends in more. More so than anything, I’m usually in awe and wonder, which only further propels my creativity. That’s it; It’s a place of divine inspiration.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mount Stuart

Opening to the public in 1995, this eclectic array of infrastructure has served to be one of the most breathtaking manors in British history, situated on the gem of the Clyde: the Isle of Bute. Mount Stuart has come to be a hidden gem in its own right, surrounded by 300 acres of landscape and nature which is just as famed as the building itself. 

Though popular, the house is certainly as mysterious as it looks. From both its interior and exterior, Mount Stuart tells a story of its own; from its blend of Georgian and Neo-Gothic architecture, to its uncarved pillars. This building has seen death, tragedy and jubilation all within its grounds. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about Mount Stuart:  

1. The original building was destroyed by fire!

Mount Stuart, original building post-fire. Source: http://www.mountstuart.com 

The magnificent building that we know and have come to love today wasn’t initially built until the late 19th century. The original house was constructed in 1719, designed by Alexander McGill, however, was severely damaged by fire in 1877. 

Most of the contents of the house were salvaged and can be seen today in the new build which was commissioned by the 3rd Marquess of Bute and co-designed with Sir Robert Rowand Anderson. These contents include library books that date as far back as the 1400s and dining room fireplaces. 

Fortunately, the Georgian wings of the original house also survived the fire and can be seen today incorporated with the Neo-Gothic design. 

2. The house has been left unfinished due to death TWICE!

John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. Source: Bute Archive at Mount Stuart 

Described as the “best amateur architect of his day” and a “scholar of the highest order” as well as the “richest man in Europe” by knowledgeable Mount Stuart tour guide, Jim Bicker on Channel 5’s Secret Scotland, the 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned a rebuild of the house in the late 19th century, inspired by his travels, nature, philosophy and astronomy. 

It’s said that the Marquess loved animals and as a child, would perform little ceremonies whenever he happened across a corpse of an animal. This would explain why the entire interior is coated in them from carvings to paintings. 

However, the work that was being put into the house ceased abruptly as Lord Bute passed away at the age of 50 in 1900 with a stroke. The work of 21 years had suddenly came to a halt for over 60 workmen and Mount Stuart was, regrettably, left unfinished. 

Rather coincidentally, the 6th Marquess of Bute met a similar fate. In 1988, the work that was left unfinished by his Great-Grandfather was taken up again by John and his wife, Jennifer. However, it wasn’t before long that he unfortunately passed away young and for the second time, plans for this incredible mansion were halted by death. Mount Stuart was once again – left unfinished.

Even to this day, you can still see evidence of unfinished work from uncarved pillars to unpolished arches, and even the signatures of workmen that never got to finish their work. 

3. It holds a lot of ‘first’ titles

Marble Hall, source: mountstuart.com

The First…

  • Million pound house in Scotland
  • House in Scotland to be wired for electricity (which Queen Victoria got word of and wanted in place for her home in Balmoral)
  • House to have a lift in Scotland 
  • House to have an indoor heated swimming pool in the world (though there is speculation that it is likely that Romans had beaten the marquess to this) 
  • House to have a central heating system in Scotland 

4. It served as a hospital during WWI

Wounded soldiers during WWI at Mount Stuart House. Source: mountstuart.com 

The home of the Marquess of Bute was used as a Naval hospital during the Great War- a war that seen over 300 men from the island losing their lives while on active service in the Royal and Merchant navies & Territorial armies. 

For those wounded, an operating theatre was put in place in a conservatory situated on the Chapel side of the building and was said to be placed here for better natural lighting whilst operations were carried out. 

Very few people knew that one of the surgeons operating in the conservatory was a local Bute man, Sir William Mcewen, widely considered ‘the father of neurosurgery’ and made many contributions to the advancement of bone graft surgery as well as the surgical treatment of hernias and removal of lungs. 

Mcewen was born in Port Bannatyne, Bute, in 1848 and studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, gaining his degree in 1872.

Today he is buried in the churchyard of St. Blane’s Church at Kingarth. 

5. It’s hosted many famous weddings!

The Marble Chapel, Mount Stuart. Source: http://www.mountstuart.com

It may come as no surprise that this glorious, 80ft tall chapel has been host to some of the most extravagant weddings but in recent years, it’s hosted some big names within its walls. 

The White Marble Chapel is a direct copy of La Seo, a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Zaragoza, Spain and its floors inspired by the Sistine Chapel-a luxurious design fit only for the most luxurious. 

The Chapel was scene to the wedding of the 4th Marquess of Bute’s daughter- Jean Crichton-Stuart in 1928 and was said to be the first wedding at Mount Stuart in 200 years. 

In 2003, fashion designer and daughter of Beatle legend, Paul McCartney; Stella, reportedly dined in Mount Stuart after her wedding ceremony with names such as Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Hugh Grant, Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Tom Ford, according to Vogue in a 2003 article.  

Furthermore, in 2014, JLS star ‘JB’ Gill married his then fiancé, Chloe Tangney, in the Chapel- telling the Scotsman that he wanted “a traditional wedding” and claiming that it was the best day of his life.